99 Homes : Michael Shannon has never been better (which is saying something) as a gangster real estate broker in this tough, urgent drama from Rahmin Bahrani (Man Push Cart). Andrew Garfield is a desperate construction guy who loses his family home to Shannon before they form an uneasy, unexpected alliance — a deal with the devil, really. Bahrani beautifully dramatizes the conflict: it’s the story of a man who does terrible work for incredible reward, and the filmmaker ends up slyly testing the entire concept of empathy for the protagonist. Garfield is very good, giving a welcome reminder that there’s a fine actor hiding under the Spidey suit. But it’s Shannon’s show all the way, particularly in his killer “America doesn’t bail out the losers” speech, which is good writing, great performance, and timely social commentary, all at once. Some of the storytelling is overly coincidental and the ending’s a bit too tidy, but overall, Bahrani’s film is sharp, intelligent, and infuriating.
SPECTRE : After the artistic (and commercial) high of Skyfall, Sam Mendes’ return to the Bond franchise probably couldn’t go anywhere but down. But the criticisms that quickly coalesced around the latest installment in the adventures of 007 tended to focus on what seemed, to this viewer at least, to be its virtues: its long stretches of no action at all, in favor of moody, conversational consideration of the character’s darker impulses. Sure, it’s a half hour too long and Christoph Waltz is wildly underused (and his big reveal is a big nothing), but credit where due to Mendes and company for continuing to experiment with a character we all thought was basically set in stone.